After the lunch several of the regulars headed out to the parade park, for a few more beers and some time of remembrance. As was the tradition one of the older diggers would start with a few comments on an old comrade long past. “John Humphries would have liked those sausages we had for lunch” “Oh he sure would have” and so the tributes and memories would slowly start to flow. Now you must understand this did not go on every afternoon, but often enough that throughout a year nearly every lost, fallen or missing comrade would have his memory honoured.
Not everyone participated, and in no way were all the people out under the trees in one group, nor did they even stay within the same groups, what with some of the diggers enjoying the opportunity to flitter around the various parties, stopping for a few minutes to share a joke, remind someone on details, or just to refill their beer glasses from the supply of jugs that were doing the rounds.
The boys enjoyed these days, these hours, these lessons and tributes that they had enjoyed now for so many years throughout there lives.
And so it was into such an afternoon that Mr. Thompson started,
“We were in some back hills in northern Malaya, a set of exercises against Blue Force, and no one I knew could tell us which Regiment was playing Blue Force that month.”
At this time James arrived with a few fresh jugs of beer, “Mark Gibbons would have carried these without spilling so much mate!” came a smart arse comment from over the field, which brought on some good hearted laughter.
As the beers were refilled Mr. Thompson smiled and continued, “I had just made Sergeant the month before. My stripes were so new that the stitching still had that super grip that made my shoulders an inch wider.”
“Would not have it any other way,” said Fred Jones.
“My squad was given a nice, cozy you could say, observation post over looking a long field and a few trails leading up the slope towards the pass we occupied.” With a smile Mr. Thompson lifted his beer and drank a while. “On the second night a bit of boredom started to set in, by the third night the hours were really slow, and the fourth night was all but a killer. Each minute seemed to stretch on and on. We sat and watched the same field; the same trails the same pass. Occasionally it would rain, at other times the clouds would part and the night sky would be filled with stars.”
One of the men stated “Rain and mud, mud and rain, good old Malaya.”
“Indeed,” Mr. Thompson continued “of the five of us in the ob only two of us were awake on lookout. Nineteen minutes past eleven, funny how a time will stay with you through the years. It was dark, a few clouds and no wind, a few animal noises in the surrounding scrub, nothing at all that we had not experienced those past nights. Then I felt a pressure on my left shoulder, like someone was tracing my shoulder patch, letter for letter, ever so gently, yet with enough care so that I knew it was happening. I turn, but there was no one there. At this point I was about to rouse the squad to make a search when from out of the shadows a whisper came to me ‘Australian’s shhhh’ and then there was nothing, nothing but a chill through my blood and a very heavy sweat running all over my body.”
Looking at the ground Mr. Thompson shook his head, “Who or what was that all about I could only wonder. I did not sleep that night, and in the morning conducted a search of the ground around the Ob post, and I found nothing at all to show anyone had been there, not a thing except the signs of five Aussies and several days of watching nothing while nothing happened…”
“Ronny, Ronny, Ronny, you need more beer lad” James offered the jug to refill the glass.
“Thanks mate,” nodded Dave’s Dad, “Well I knew I had had the experience, yet what to say, and who to tell it to. Was I just being a jumpy fresh Sergeant, lost in the boredom of yet another exercise? Or had I met the enemy and let them through? I fought this for an hour. It was then that I made my way over to my senior’s post along the ridge. He was an old hand and listened to my report, then sent me right back and told me I was lucky they were on my side.”
Looking over at the boy’s, Mr. Thompson winked, “It was later in the week, a few days after the exercise had been completed that things finally started to fall into place. Captain Harrison, one of our company officers called the non-commissioned officers into the sergeant’s mess. Here we were introduced us to a squad of Gurhka. These humble looking people had been conducting their own exercise within the overall show. They had infiltrated our ridge, for a 6 hour period one night. For the next hour we listened as their officer explained what had taken place, how these very unassuming people had made themselves comfortable in the scrub around our posts and observed us observing the scrub.”
This brought on quite a few chuckles from the group. Many of the older ones were smiling, yet no one was commenting now. Mr. Thompson continued, “After the lecture we mingled and talked amongst ourselves. At this time one of the Gurhkas came over and introduced himself. He did not talk a lot, but he did want to say hello again. I looked at him closely, quite sure that I had never seen him before. He then shook my hand and explained that it was he who had read my shoulder flash that cold night. That it gave him a great big smile when he read ‘Australia’ on my shoulder. He was then ashamed because he had pushed harder when he realized we were Australian, and not the Canadians that were apart of the exercise.”
Taking a drink of his beer, “these lads sure had some wonderful skills in the field. I wish we could have spent more time with them, so much we could have learnt. Yet as with all things they come to an end, and the Gurhka's boarded a truck and drove off. A time and a place I will never forget, that is for sure.”
Raising his glass, Mr. Thompson simply said “to the Gurhkas.”
This got “here here’s” all round the group.
Glasses were refilled, several others told short stories and a few jokes were shared. Then an ancient smiled and looked over at Dave’s Dad, “so what was his name, this Gurhka of yours Ronnie?”
“His name? Why all he told me, and with great pride, was that he was Gurhka 17.”